(Note: This is an article written for layman having no knowledge of law. If you are a lawyer or a legal expert, please feel free to point out if there is any mistake in the article. If you want to give your inputs to make this better, please leave a comment at the bottom.)
Many a times we come across the term called criminal trial. In general parlance, we understand trial means that a person is facing a case in court of law. But generally people are not aware of the process of criminal trial in India. So here is the procedure for criminal trial that generally takes place in India.
Types of Criminal Trials
Before we proceed further, we must note that according to Criminal Procedure Code, criminal trial can be of tree types namely Trial in Warrant cases, Trial in Summon Cases and Summery Trial
Trial in Warrant Cases
Warrant cases are those cases in which an offence attracts a penalty of imprisonment for more than seven years and it includes offences punishable with death and life imprisonment. In such cases, the trial starts either by filing of FIR or by filing a complaint before a magistrate. And if the magistrate finds that the case relates to an offence carrying a punishment for more than two years, the case is sent to the sessions court for trial.
Section 193 of the Criminal Procedure Code clearly states that the session court can not take cognizance of any offence unless the case has been sent to it by a magistrate. The process of sending it to sessions court is generally called committing it to sessions court.
Trial in Summon Cases
A summon case is a case which is not a warrant case. So in simple words, those cases in which an offence is punishable with an imprisonment of less than two years is a summon case. In this case, one must understand that if a magistrate, after looking into the case, thinks that a case is not a summon case, he may convert it into a warrant case. In respect of summons cases, there is no need to frame a charge. The court gives substance of the accusation, which is called “notice”, to the accused when the person appears in pursuance to the summons.
Case of offenses punishable with an imprisonment of not more than six months can be tried in a summary way. It is also to be noted that if the case has been tried in a summary way, a person can not be awarded a punishment of imprisonment for more than three months.
Registration of FIR
FIR stands for first information report which is lodged under section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The FIR is only the basis information which is made available to the police when a cognizable offence takes place. FIR is the first stage from which a criminal case takes the birth.
FIR in a criminal case leads to investigation in the case. Investigation leads an investigating officer to reach to a conclusion whether a chargesheet has to be filed or a closure report has to be filed in the case. If the investigation result in discovery of an offence, a chargesheet is filed, otherwise a closure report is filed before the concerned court.
If the investigating officer finds out that a case is fit for trial then he files a chargesheet in the case.
Filing of the charge sheet
The charge sheet is the brief summary of how an offence had been committed? What was the role of each person who was involved in the crime and the sections under which the investigating officer had charged all the accused. The charge sheet also contains the names of the person who were investigated but could not be charged due to lack of evidence in the eyes of the investigating agency. Filing of the charge sheet generally means that the investigation in the case is over and now the court has to consider the evidence collected by the investigating agency. It is to be noted, that if during the course of trial, some new facts come to the light, the agency may file additional charge sheets.
Framing of charges/Serving the Notice
if it’s a summon case, a simple notice is given and a response is sought from the accused. But in warrant cases, the court frames the charges.
Framing of charges mean that the court looks into the evidence collected by the investigating agency and applies its mind so as to what are the charges under which an accused has to be booked. For example, the police has filed a chargesheet accusing a person of murder under section 302, but the court deems it proper to charge the person for culpable homicide not amounting to murder under section 304. At this stage, if an accused pleads guilty then the court will apply its judicial mind and decide the punishment accordingly. And if the accused pleads not guilty, he is informed the charges under which he would be required to face the trial.
On the other hand, if the judge finds that no offence against an accused is made out, the accused is discharged from the case. The court has to apply its mind and record the reasons for discharging an accused.
Recording of the Prosecution Evidence
After the charges have been framed against an accused, the prosecution is required to produce before the court, all the evidence collected by the investigating agency. It is to be noted that when the investigating agency produces the evidence before the court, the evidence has to be supplemented with the statement of the prosecution witnesses (PWs). The process of recording the statement of PWs is called Examination-in-Chief. The evidence which is brought before the court and which the court considers is called “Exhibit” . The witnesses brought by the prosecution are expected to support the case presented by the prosecution and if they fail to do so, they are declared hostile and the prosecution may request the court not to rely on the statement of such a witness.
In case the witness supports the case of the prosecution, the defense is entitled to cross examine the witness so that they could find out the discrepancies in the statement of the witness concerned. If the defense succeeds in finding the discrepancies in the statement of the witnesses, they may ask the court not to rely on the statement of the said witness.
Statement of the accused
Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure code empowers the court to ask for an explanation from the accused if any. The basic idea is to give an opportunity of being heard to an accused an explain the facts and circumstances appearing in the evidence against him. Under this section, an accused shall not be administered an oath and the accused may refuse to answer the questions so asked. The answers given by the accused may be taken into consideration in such inquiry or trial, and put in evidence for or against him.
Evidence of Defense
After the statement of the accused is over, the court applies its mind and tries to find out if the accused has committed any offence or not. If the court reaches the conclusion that no offence has been committed by the accused, he is acquitted. It must be noted that while acquitting an accused, the judge is expected to give reasons for acquitting the accused.
In cases of accused not being acquitted by the court, the defense is given an opportunity to present any defense evidence in support of the accused. The defense can also produce its witnesses and the said witnesses are cross examined by the prosecution. In India, generally the defense does not provide defense evidence as the criminal justice system in India puts burden of proof on the prosecution to prove that a person is guilty of an offence beyond the reasonable doubt.
Final Arguments of both the sides
Once the defense evidence of the accused is over, the prosecution presents its final arguments. In final arguments, the prosecution generally sum up its case against the accused. After the final arguments of the prosecution are over, the defense also present its final arguments. After the final arguments of both the sides are over, the court generally reserve its judgment.
Delivery of Judgment
After application of mind, the judge delivers a final judgment holding an accused guilty of offence or acquitting him of the particular offence. If a person is acquitted, the prosecution is given time to file an appeal and if a person is convicted of a particular offence, then date is fixed for arguments on sentence.
Arguments on sentence
Once a person is convicted of an offence, both the sides present their arguments on what punishment should be awarded to an accused. This is generally done in cases which are punished with death or life imprisonment.
Judgment with punishment
After the arguments on sentence, the court finally decides what should be the punishment for the accused. While punishing a person, the courts consider various theories of punishment like reformative theory of punishment and deterrent theory of punishment. Court also considers the age, background and history of an accused and the judgment is pronounced accordingly.